Star Wars Starfighter
On the heels of N64's Battle for Naboo, Starfighter makes you really appreciate the power of the PS2. Extensive audio communication between your pilot and allies guides you colorfully through each mission, and the game won't stutter with dozens of ships on-screen. While the story's only a notch above the usual crap, the gameplay is the best you'll find in a Star Wars console title, with intuitive targeting and flight controls, plus wingman commands that let you give orders to your allies. Missions are split fairly evenly between land and space settings, and you even get to fly through an enemy space station at one point (cool). What disappointed me was the consistently choppy framerate and mediocre graphics-- I kept getting the feeling that the game was rushed. Some of the ground terrains look out-and-out ugly. I'd blame it on the youth of the hardware, but there are already games on the shelf that look a heck of a lot better. If you're into the PC Star Wars sims, you're not going to be overly impressed--Starfighter doesn't do anything that the PC games haven't, and joystick users will lament the controls. Nonetheless, Starfighter has a lot of cool mission objectives that make the game very fun to play, even for those who aren't big fans of the genre. PS2 owners should consider this one as a refreshing break from the recent barrage of lame titles, whether you've followed the series on consoles or not.
Starfighter isn't the PS2 killer app I was hoping for. The visuals, although slick, get choppy--especially during planetside levels--and mission design here is nothing special. Later sorties suffer from that chronic flaw of the space-combat genre: They start out easy, last too long, become impossibly hard near the end, and thus force you to repeat them over and over. It's tedious. Still, this game does plenty right. It tosses an enormous amount of enemies at you; you really feel like you're part of a battle that's true to the epic scale of the films. And just wait until you weave through the innards of the massive droid-control ship! Fun but flawed.
If there's one thing that this game excels at, it's making you feel like you're flying in the middle of an epic battle. The amount of laser-fodder on screen at once is amazing, but comes at a price: The gameplay often slows down during the planetary missions and there's lots of glitchy graphics that you just don't expect in a PS2 game (often I "parked" inside a capi-tol ship and blew it up from within when the polygons glitched and let me in). All of those enemies also cause lots of deaths, which sucks because you have to constantly restart long, difficult missions from scratch. But if you have patience, you'll definitely enjoy this visceral adrenaline rush.
Download Star Wars Starfighter
The parade of Star Wars games continues with this 3D flight sim that seems like a combination of Rogue Squadron and X-Wing. LucasArts Starfighter takes place during the Trade Federation takeover of Naboo where you pilot three different types of ships in 14 missions taking place both on the planet and in space. The graphics, particularly the landscapes, are absolutely gorgeous. You can see for yourself this winter.
Set slightly before the Phantom Menace, Starfighter follows the story of three highly different characters who find themselves fighting for similar goals. The story starts with Rhys Dallows, who as a citizen of Naboo accepts a request to join Bravo team, protecting his planet from the Trade Federation. With the Trade Federation threatening Naboo's freedom, their lack of a military force leaves them quite vulnerable and a small force is quickly established. Flying the agile N-1 Starfighter, Rhys shows a quick ability to take advantage of the crafts precision control and raw speed. Just as his training was completing however, an attack kills his trainer and sets him adrift in space. As that's happening, Vana Sage a mercenary hired by the Trade Federation to track down and capture the pirate Nym, discovers her employer, the Trade Federation, isn't all that innocent as she finds their droid factory preparing for a planetary invasion. Using her starfighter the Guardian Mantis, she finds her conscience getting the best of her and decides to warn the Naboo. Unfortunately for her and the Naboo, Nym was well aware of his bounty and tracked Vana first. Flying his heavily upgraded ship the Havoc, Nym captures Vana, locking her up. This is just the beginning however, as these three individuals cross paths and realize their common enemy, a unique alliance is forged and a powerful force is created.
Starfighter is almost a direct port from the original [Playstation 2 version] without any noticeable attempts to improve it. Even the [X-Box version] received a slight facelift offering new missions and multi-playing capabilities but this port actually takes a step backward, with some areas worse than the original. Although still solid in a number of key areas with the same great story line, many may be disappointed and frustrated with this port especially if they're looking for improvement over the original.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Starfighter is focused around fourteen story-based missions with bonus missions available when certain criteria are met. Each of the story-based missions allows three different difficulties: easy, medium, and hard, to increase the challenge for the more advanced players. In addition, medals are awarded: bronze, silver, or gold, when extra objectives are achieved. For instance, beyond just meeting the minimum requirements for a mission, to get a medal you may have to finish in a certain time period, destroy all enemies, or keep from losing a high percentage of friendly ships. Once medals are awarded, bonus missions can be unlocked when all the required medals are won. Getting all bronze medals may unlock one bonus mission while getting all silver medals may allow any mission to be flown using a specific starfighter. In the bonus missions selection at the beginning of the game, the requirements for unlocking each bonus mission is shown, so if specific missions look interesting, those requirements can be attempted first.
The missions are tied together with a solid storyline that does a great job expanding the Star Wars universe. In addition to skirting on the edges of the Star Wars Episode 1: Phantom Menace storyline, it also creates new characters and builds an original plot through the lives of Rhys, Vana, and Nym. The main problem with the storyline however is its length. Although the cut scenes inbetween missions help build the story, most would probably trade them in for more missions given the option. The bonus missions, which are created to elongate the game, help somewhat but the small amount of them doesn't help enough. Most gamers will also be able to rip through the fourteen missions fairly quickly and even though attempting to get all the medals offers more objectives, they too are quickly achieved.
Although improvements to the game's length would have been welcome, changes to the controls are definitely not. Unfortunately, that appears to be exactly what has happened and calling it an improvement would be a significant misstatement. For some reason, there appears to be a delay from the time a command to steer is given to when the craft actually reacts. Basically, when you're flying through a narrow gorge for instance, navigating can become a highly difficult task. As you're weaving through it, the only way to successfully navigate is to know what turns are coming and react about a second before you normally would. Why it works this way is beyond me as there was a similar response using either the keyboard or a joystick. I actually spent over an hour troubleshooting the joystick before realizing the keyboard operates the in the same manner. When flying in open areas, it's not a huge problem but flying in tight places can be frustrating. The rest of the control structure doesn't have the same problem, as firing weapons or switching targets appears to happen when requested.
Since bugs have apparently crept into the control system, the interface was also suspect. In seems to have faired better however, and made it through the porting process relatively intact. When looking at the interface, all three starfighters flown have a similar structure but slightly different appearance to them. It consists of a targeting sight in the middle of the screen that's fixed in place. At the bottom of the screen on the left side is a picture of the target selected with its shields, health, distance, and name around the outside of the image. On the bottom right is an objective pointer represented by an arrow surrounded by your health, shields, and secondary weapon ammo indicator. There is also a wingman command display located in the upper left corner where up to four commands can be given.
For those who like them, Starfighter does have two bonus missions for multiplayer games that can be unlocked. One is a modified capture the flag where you try to fly through your enemies guarded ring and fly back through yours three times to win. If you get shot down before getting back however, you lose the flag and have to fly through again. Both flags also can't be obtained at the same time so if your opponent gets yours, you either have to shoot him down or let him get the flag back to his base. The other multiplayer bonus mission is a basic race through a canyon where the only goal is to reach the finish line first. Although the first mission is slightly more interesting than racing through a canyon, both are short lived and worn out quickly.
As with the original, the graphics are definitely a selling point. It's still one of the better space simulators on the market visually with high levels of detail and beautifully rendered environments. The weapons even leave blast marks and realistic smoke trails can be seen as enemies are shot down. Often if shot enough, they'll explode with pieces of the craft flying out in accurate arching patterning due to it's velocity and direction.
The audio even surpasses the graphics with sound quality familiar to most Star Wars games. All the special effects and other sounds that bring the Star Wars universe to life are included in this game and are executed perfectly. Other issues like the voices for the characters also hit the mark, adding depth and personality sometimes difficult to achieve.
OS: Windows 95/98/ME/2000/XP, CPU: Pentium II or Athlon class 350 MHz or faster CPU required, Memory: 64 MB RAM required. 128 MB required for Windows 2000 and XP, Graphics: 16 MB DirectX 8 compatible PCI or AGP 3D Hardware Accelerator required, Sound Card: 16-bit sound card required, Input Deevice: Keyboard or mouse required. Joystick or gamepad recommended, Hard Drive Space: 580 MB of free hard drive space required. Additional 100 MB of free space required after game
With Star Wars: Starfighter for the PC being an almost direct port from the Playstation 2, you'd expect most of the game to not be any worse then the original. For the most part, this is the case except for one gameplay issue concerning the control system. That apparent bug can cause unnecessary frustration and make some missions extremely difficult to complete. If that can be overlooked however, Lucasarts does a good job on the rest of the port, even recognizing it for the port it is offering it for $40 instead of the standard $50 most games go for.
One of the biggest stories to surface out of last year's Electronic Entertainment Expo was George Lucas and his undying love for the power under the hood of the PlayStation 2. Granted, I am sure that Sony did everything in their power to see to it that this news was broadcast as loudly and frequently as possible. Now we gamers are finally treated to the first fruits of Mr. Lucas' supposed love with Sony's super-console. From the moment I popped this disc in, I could not wait to find out if the programmers at LucasArts shared the same affection for the PS2 as the big cheese. Overall, I would have to say they are on the right track but still need a few more hours targeting Wamprats back in Beggars Canyon.
It was never really clear if the story takes place right before or right after The Phantom Menace but it was around that general time period. You will alternate roles between of one of three pilots with the ultimate goal of trying to help save Naboo from the Trade Federation. As you switch between pilots, you take the reigns of three different ship types, each with slightly different weapons. You will test your skills as a pilot across 14 surface and space missions that come to an end all too quickly.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Starfighter is best classified as a mission-based flight combat sim. The game is broken out into 14 different missions each with a varying number of objectives. Prior to launching into a mission, you are presented with a text briefing of your objectives along with three bonus objectives (more on bonus missions in a minute). The missions range from protecting ground positions to destroying shield generators to simple dogfights. As you work your way through the different missions and objectives, cut-scenes are used to try driving the story along.
I had previously mentioned that each mission contains three bonus objectives along with the mandatory objective. These bonus objectives unlock hidden missions at the end of the game. The bonus objective would vary but one of the three was almost always completing the mission under a certain amount of time. The other two bonus objectives were dependant on the mission but usually consisted of destroying all enemy targets or protecting a ship from taking any enemy fire -- things along those lines. The whole point of these bonus objectives was to help the longevity of the game; to get you to come back and play the missions over and over trying to complete all three of the bonus objectives to receive your gold medal. This leads me to one of my complaints with the game...
This game is short. Too short. Disappointingly short. Using the bonus objectives to try to get you to go back and play through each mission was a step in the right direction but after playing through each mission two or three times, I quickly grew tired and wanted to move on, regardless of whether or not I had completed the bonus objectives. And while we are on the topic, I found some of the 14 missions to be rather bland and repetitive. There were more than a few occasions where I found myself mentally going on autopilot just waiting for the mission to end so I could go on to something new. As it stands, if you try to play through the 14 missions without worrying about the bonus objectives, an average gamer should complete the game in 15-20 hours. The game does have a difficulty setting that allows you to chose from easy-medium-hard and there is a definite difference. I suggest you play at least medium to help draw the game out further and to add a bit more challenge.
As long as we are airing the dirty laundry out of the gate, I might as well touch on the other thing that bothered me about the game (and then we will go on to what was good about it). As you are flying the missions, you have no radar. Every flying game has a radar and there is good reason for it. There were times where I found myself a bit confused at who the enemy was and who my fellow pilots were. On further inspection it was fairly obvious but in the heat of battle, I have my guns blazing and don't have time for a visual inspection. A radar with different colored dots representing allies and foes would have saved a bit of frustration on my part and I can't help but think that others will curse this omission as well.
Based on what you have just read, you must be scratching your head wondering how the game could score a 52, let alone an 82. Well, even though the game was short and sometimes repetitive, other times I would sit back and marvel at the Star Wars universe that LucasArts created and actually felt like I was part of it. Some Star Wars games in the past have really missed the mark when trying to capture this feeling and end up coming across generic. Not the case here.
Aside from the lack of a radar, this game is a snap to play. After 15 minutes or so, you should have a good handle on the controls and should be flying like a starfleet veteran. They did a great job of using the PlayStation controller and all of the buttons without making it overly complicated. Both analog sticks are used which normally leads to complicated controls but even novice pilots should feel comfortable in relatively short order. It can get a bit overwhelming when trying to hold on the brakes (L2), fire your lasers (L1), and aim but there were only a few instances that this was required. One final note on the controls was the zoom feature. By holding in the R1 button, the targeting will zoom to a sniper mode. This allows you to more accurately target ships off in the distance and is key to obtaining good mission times because you do not have to sit back waiting for the enemy ships to get closer.
The one thing that saved all of the missions, and therefore the game, from being a totally bland and repetitive exercise was the fact that the missions varied from surface to space. It was very refreshing to complete a battle deep in space only to have the next mission be centered planet side. This is something that is not often seen in this type of game. Normally they would take place all in space or all on a planet so it was nice to see the developers buck the trend a bit and mix it up.
Graphics & Audio
This is one of the few PlayStation 2 games that is worthy of the system. Up until now, I feel most PS2 games could have been pulled off on the Dreamcast with little or no graphical hit. There is no way the Dreamcast could pull off graphics this pretty. The ships are very detailed and modeled perfectly. The cut-scenes, while obviously pre-rendered, are breathtaking. All of that said, it is the explosions that steal the show. I have never seen explosions recreated with such vivid colors and with such attention to detail. I actually found myself trying to talk other people into playing the game just so I could sit back and enjoy from a distance. There were a few minor downsides to the graphics -- most notably the surface textures. After awhile, all of the ground missions started to look alike. Some variety would have been nice.
As for audio, what can I say? This is LucasArts and this is Star Wars. Everything from the laser fire to the chatter over the com unit just drips Star Wars. I really feel that the audio is one of the strongest points of the game because it helps suck you in to the Star Wars world.
Well, Mr. Lucas appears to have his team on the right track and his excitement over the PS2 looks to have a bit of substance behind it now. While this game could have been much more than it ended up, I can't help but wonder what is to come in the next year or two. Starfighter is very much worth a weekend rental and if you are a die-hard Star Wars fan, you can't go wrong picking it up. It is one of the best games ever created based on the Star Wars universe but I just wonder if another month or two in development would not have done enough to push the game to elite status.